Harvard University and the University of Southern California announced Tuesday that first-year international students will not be allowed on campus because of federal visa regulations.
Last week, the U.S. government rescinded an immigration rule barring international students from staying or going to the United States while taking online courses after facing fierce opposition and legal challenges from universities.
While that was a major victory for international students, the dean of Harvard College, Rakesh Khurana, wrote that it does not apply to newly admitted international students.
“Despite the Immigration and Customs Enforcement division's decision to withdraw the directive that would have prohibited currently enrolled international students in the United States from taking an all-online course load this fall, this reversal does not apply to our newly admitted international students who require F-1 sponsorship,” Khurana wrote.
“We strongly disagree with guidance from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that newly admitted F-1 international students, who are currently outside the United States, should not enter the U.S. on a student visa unless they are able to enroll in an in-person academic program,” the University of Southern California (USC) wrote on its website.
“We are exploring all legal options and are disappointed that the Department of Homeland Security has not made a more affirmative policy statement to offer clarity and flexibility to new students and universities during this global pandemic,” it wrote.
“I’m definitely sad that I won’t be getting the normal freshman experience. And with the fact that the college is going completely online for the whole year, I was worried with how things are going to be with me learning remotely from Malaysia,” said Mohamed Aqil bin Azmi, a Harvard-bound international student.
“We abhor any policies that seek to force us to choose between our community’s health and the education of our international students,” Khurana continued.
In a town hall for international students in early July, many students asked administrators if the college would consider implementing a hybrid-model, a combination of in-person and online instruction, the Harvard Crimson reported.
“We explored this option and concluded that given the unpredictability of current government policies and the uncertainty of the COVID-19 crisis, this path could jeopardize both our international students’ ability to enter or leave the United States in the future and our community’s health,” Khurana wrote.
Khurana suggested two options for first-year international students to consider: taking their first semester completely online or deferring the start of their time at Harvard.
For students who choose to defer, the university guarantees all international, first-year students housing when the campus is able to welcome students back safely.
USC echoed those suggestions.
“Begin your academic program from abroad as a non-F-1 student. Contact your academic advisor to find a suitable schedule of online courses for fall 2020 and to gather information about obtaining a new I-20 for the spring 2021 semester,” it advised.
“Contact your admissions advisor, and inquire about possible options for beginning your academic program in a future semester.”
“It’s just the whole campus experience that I’m missing out which is making me disappointed, but I guess that’s kinda [sic] inevitable with how things are,” Aqil wrote to VOA.
“I am still entertaining the idea of deferring and taking a gap year -- I’m still discussing that decision with my parents and sponsors, but I’m quite inclined to continue remotely,” he added.
“We know this time presents you with an extra set of stressors. You likely have concerns about your visa, your ability to travel, academics and more,” posted USC on its page for international students.
“Our top priority is your health, safety and well-being. We are here to support you, and we will continue to update the information below as new developments take place.”
Khurana concluded, “I wish I could be writing to you with better news today, but I am hopeful that brighter days are ahead.”
Other universities have not released their policies for international freshman yet.